Driving down busy Beechwood Street in Cohasset, Mass., you’d never know that one turn down a bumpy dirt road and a little patience will spit you out land you at a charming, one-room sweet shop known as the Sugar Shack.
It has a tin roof, a black front door and a sign out front reminding shoppers to leave their four-legged friends outside. The walls are lined with candles, teas, seeds, malted milk balls, coffees and individually packed sweets, and on tables in the center are grazing boards and collections of snacks with quaint names like M Bumble’s M. Bumbles Reserve, a jar filled with caramels, chocolate almonds, cashews and chocolate-covered pretzels, Oreos and Twinkies.
The small, one-room structure that is filled with color – and runs entirely on the honor system – almost feels like a relic of another time. It’s Its owner, Jennifer Mekler, built the entire thing by hand. And she did it on a whim.
“I wanted something that little kids would remember,” she said. “We started as a simple pie shack, then it just grew and grew.”
That’s something that seems to happen to Mekler a lot – one thing growing into something quite different. You could call it getting ahead of herself or letting things spiral, but the actual reason is something in between: she just goes with the flow of it all.
It will be two years ago this fall that Mekler retired from her life in the restaurant industry and found herself resting sitting on her laurels for the first time in, well, ever. She said she went for a walk with one giant question swirling around her head: What am I going to do with my life? The answer? “I’m going to build a sugar shack.”
“By the time I made it back to the house I had the whole thing mapped out in my head,” Mekler said. “My husband and brother said, ‘No you aren’t,’ but of course I insisted, and they challenged me to do it for less than $800. I built it with my 83-year-old father, bargained and traded with people I knew, and did it for $798.97.”
At first, the shack sold cakes, pies and shortbreads she made, with the occasional jam. Then she brought in coffees and teas and she now sells the sweet treats of eight different female-owned small businesses under the umbrella of her brand, Mrs. Mekler’s Merchantile. Eventually it will be a Magnolia-esque lifestyle brand, Mekler said (see, she’s doing it again), but for now it’s an online store and shack that specializes in delicious goods and the joy of the holidays.
Popular products include bourbon caramels, English toffee, Ethiopian coffee and sea-salted dark chocolate caramels.
“It’s really gotten busy,” she said. “People are parking in the ballfield and walking up on Saturdays. It’s getting busier by the week and people have been really respectful of what it is we’re doing here.”
All of Mrs. Mekler’s Merchantile goods are sold online, but the out-of-the-way Sugar Shack still accounts for about 70% of the brand’s sales. She does holiday specials – she they sold more than 200 Easter baskets – and custom dessert grazing boards for events. Friday is pie day.
It’s chaotic in a planned-out sort of way, and Mekler said she aims to turn what people call her “quirky” personality into a recognizable brand. Ideally, “I am for Anthony Bourdain’s sass and Coco Chanel’s style,” she said.
“I want it to be something sassy but with good products you are proud to get and love to give,” Mekler said. “This was about bringing joy back into my life after a dark period. I wanted to do something that was just pure fun and pure magic.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.